Minnesota in Egypt

Second Century

This page gives additional information about events mentioned in timeline

site map or introductory page links in text below are to the bibliography or gl0ssary,
except two to websites on the papyrus fragment.

 

Clement of Alexandria: mural

Spread of Christianity

Contemporary records for this century apply mainly to Alexandria, but distribution of papyrus finds suggests that Christianity was taking hold in many other parts of Egypt (Griggs 1993, 24-28).

The Catechetical School of Alexandria brought Egypt to the forefront of Christian intellectual life. Alexandria had long been a center of Pagan and Jewish scholarship: it was there that the Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek. About 150, a converted Stoic philosopher founded the Christian Catechetical School, later headed by Clement of Alexandria and then by Origen, both men of wide influence. (Clement's description of the fervor of Christian Worship is quoted on the Events page.)

Papyrus Rylands Greek 457, recto: fragment of Gospel of St. John, from http://home.t-online.de/home/euangeleion/papyrus.
see also
http://rylibweb.man.ac.uk/data1/dg/text/fragment.htm.

Papyri, Biblical and other

Most of the early evidence for the books now included in the New Testament, for apocryphal books excluded from it, and for Gnostic texts comes from Egypt. This situation certainly testifies to a high level of literacy, and of religious and philosophical activity in that region, but it also reflects a particular physical environment. The consistent dryness of Egypt's climate favors preservation of organic material. Even when discarded or carelessly stored, papyrus, the material on which texts were written in the early Christian centuries, is more likely to survive in Egypt than in many other places.

Papyrology, the study of book and letter forms on papyri, has allowed increasing precision in dating and deciphering. Even small fragments may often have large contributions to make. In 1979, Roberts surveyed the state of scholarship and assigned to the second century eight fragments of Old Testament books probably used by Christians rather than Jews (Roberts 1979). He also dated the earliest known fragment of a New Testament book, a fragment of the Gospel of John, to that period (Roberts 1935; Griggs 1993, 24-25)."This scrap may take us back within twenty years of the original composition." (Bell 1944, 200; quoted Griggs 25: see image at left). Fragments of a previously unknown gospel are also dated to the mid second century (Bell and Skeat 1935).

Mary leaves her parents to enter the Temple. From the Très Riches Heures. Click on image for more depictions.

Apocryphal life of Mary

Many apocryphal books added details not in the New Testament. One of the most important additions has been an account of the life of the Virgin Mary including her parentage, birth, childhood, betrothal to Joseph, as well as the Annunciation and Nativity. The stories became very popular and widespread. One popular element, giving rise to a feast day still celebrated in both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, is the Presentation of the Virgin. The story says that as a three year old child Mary went to live in the Temple in Jerusalem. She is often shown leaving her parents and being welcomed by the High Priest (click on image).

The earliest surviving manuscript of this text, which is inaccurately known as the Protoevangelium Jacobi (Protevangelium of James), is third century, but it adapts an earlier text ( Testuz 1958 and Strycker 1961). Stryker (1961) favors a date around 200 for the original text, and considers Egypt the most probable of several possible places for its composition. Cullman (1991) suggests a date in the second half of the second century.

Hock (c1995) and Wilson (1991) have published recent English translations.